Club Atletico de Madrid made sure of a successful return to the UEFA Champions League by producing an impressive victory against FC Zenit.
After a 45-month absence from the competition, during which time they won the UEFA Europa League twice, Diego Simeone's side took time to get into their stride but Miranda's header shortly before the break set them on their way. A spectacular second-half effort from Hulk brought the visitors level but Atletico responded strongly and Arda Turan and substitute Leo Baptistao struck in the final half-hour to secure a winning start to Group G.
With his team beaten away to Malaga CF a year ago and in the knowledge that Zenit had lost on all five previous visits to Spain, coach Luciano Spalletti opted for a five-man defence which frustrated the hosts for large parts of the first period.
Koke skewing wide and a Filipe Luis shot from far out that flew narrowly past the post were all the home fans had to cheer as the half progressed while Hulk showed little sign of what he would summon later in the game, the Brazilian striking two wayward attempts off target.
Having witnessed their side make their best start to a Liga campaign in almost 60 years – scoring 14 goals in four games in the process – the Atletico supporters' belief was palpable. Their faith was repaid five minutes before the interval with Miranda – just as he had done in the Rojiblancos' Copa del Rey final triumph against Real Madrid CF last May – rising to meet Koke's corner at the near post and head high into the net.
Spalletti reacted by replacing defender Luis Nieto with Oleg Shatov at the restart and the tactical change brought its reward. Aleksandr Kerzhakov's header drew a fine save from Thibaut Courtois before Hulk – a scorer here with FC Porto in 2009 – haunted the locals once more, bounding forward to send a fierce left-footed drive from distance inside the near post.
Atletico were rocked and lucky not to be behind shortly afterwards as Kerzhakov's bending free-kick was kept out by the crossbar. The shaken hosts regrouped and regained the lead after Zenit goalkeeper Yuri Lodygin could only deflect Koke's probing free-kick into the path of Miranda. The defender's initial effort was blocked, as was Arda's subsequent strike, but the Turkish international's persistence paid off when he found the net at the second attempt.
Roaring their team on, the Vicente Calderon crowd exploded in ecstasy when replacement forward Baptistao sauntered through – within a minute of his introduction – to calmly slot in his first Atletico goal and guarantee his new club a winning return to the competition.
News source: UEFA
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City news archive for 20 September' 2013.
City news archive for September' 2013.
City news archive for 2013 year.